Opening night of the college basketball season for the UMass Lowell River Hawks (1-0) as they got their feet wet against Rivier College (0-1) before a Costello Athletic Center crowd of 719. The River Hawks did what was expected of them. The 96-51 victory went pretty much as expected. Everyone plays for Lowell, and all but two players scored in the game. The balanced attack was led by guard Ayinda Hikim (15 points, 6 assists) and forward Karim Coulibaly (15 points, 3 rebounds). All told, four players finished the game in double-figures for the River Hawks. They held the lead for almost 38 minutes of game action.
The strengths of this basketball team a year ago were its frontcourt and its depth. On opening night, those two factors were on display. They scored 64 points in the paint for the game, 45 off the bench. What you would expect from a Division 1 team playing against a junior college program. The River Hawks started fast with back-to-back three-pointers from Hikim got the home team going early in the first half. Coulibaly had nine of his points within the first five minutes of the game.
UMass Lowell took advantage of their size inside to build an early 13-6 lead. The first double-digit lead of the night came off a Yuri Covington three-ball to make it 16-6 Lowell. Rivier was getting some outside punch from junior guard Odarius Cade who had 10 of his game-high 17 points in the first half. He took 14 shots to get those 10 points, with all three of his makes coming from deep. In the first half, he was the only Raiders player that had any success vs Lowell. The half ended with the River Hawks taking their largest lead of the game with them to the locker room at 50-27. The other story of the first half and the game was UMass Lowell’s free throw shooting. In the first half, they were 12-of-16 (75%) and for the game 20-of-25 (80%).
The second half was more of the same. The River Hawks opened the second twenty minutes on an 11-2 run. Hikim had five straight during that spurt. Cam Morris would crack double-figures with a three-point play with 16 minutes left. He finished with 14 points. Quinton Mincey had a very nice game off the bench for Lowell with a double-double of 10 points and 10 boards. It was also good to see Anthony Blunt back on the court after missing all of last year with a knee injury. He played 13 minutes and had a couple of assists and a steal. The first-year players got some run as well. Anthony Maxwell, a freshman guard from Montreal, played 19 minutes. Andres Fulgencio, a junior guard, played just under 17 minutes and scored 8 points on 4-of-9 shooting. Xzavier Lino showed a nice stroke in ten minutes with seven points and a basket from deep. It was a very nice way to begin the year for UMass Lowell. Rivier also got 11 points from Devin Owens on 5-of-10 shooting, 1-of-4 from behind the arc.
Assistant coach Jon Lati thought “It was great to play under the lights.” He held off talking too much about the depth and the inside scoring until a better sample size of the season has been played. He did say he thought the newer players were “A little nervous.” which is to be expected. Both Cam Morris and Ayinda Hikim talked about how the River Hawks have been knocking on the door of an America East Championship. Having played in the tournament title game two of the last three years, Ayinda also mentioned the talk around campus about the team. He believes the student body is behind this team. Cam Morris talked about the upcoming schedule with the next six games on the road with stops at Georgia Tech and Arizona State in the group. He thinks this will be a good time for the team to bond and continue to get to know one another. That process began over the summer during camp.
That six-game stretch gets underway Friday night when the River Hawks head to Hanover, NH to play Dartmouth.
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